Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Welcome Home

An aunt of mine is famous for having noted that coffee is served weaker the further west you head from New York. In a time before cute little cafes, the ubiquitous corner Starbucks, and trans-continental truck shipping, her reasoning went, pioneers would need to ration their black gold--coffee beans--as they put miles between themselves and their suppliers. The descendants of these settlers would naturally favor the weaker brew, not knowing any better, and would happily accept what I like to call "one bean coffee."

"Aha," you may be thinking, "but isn't Seattle famous for coffee?" Well, yes, but the coffee culture of the Pacific NW and West Coast would support her claim: Seattlites (and San Franciscans, and Portlanders, etc.) could get fresh reinforcements from ships docking in their ports.

Why are we discussing coffee, you might ask? As I was preparing for my move from Brooklyn, NY to Denver, I had some peculiar questions from some of my East Coast friends, that highlighted for me how our imaginations (and a century of marketing) can lead to amusing misconceptions. Whether true or not, the coffee story sounds like creative apocrypha, although any drive cross-country will bear out the weak sauce experience.

Now, returning to the comments of my Eastern friends: they're all lovely people, mind you, but some of them haven't ever traveled west of the Mississippi. One friend informed me he'd never been west of State College, Pennsylvania! These dear friends are just unfamiliar with (I hate to say ignorant of) the states that happen to fall in the middle of our great country.

Case in point: they keep calling Colorado the "Mid-West."

And a few years ago, when I posted a photo on flickr of a cattleguard, offering to buy a whiskey for the first person to correctly identify its purpose, "rain gutter" was the favored answer. Why anyone would want to *drain* water in our parched parts was beyond me. Finally, a friend originally from Iowa put them out of their misery.

So as I've told these friends of my impending move, you can imagine the questions I get.
  • "Can I come visit you this fall to go skiing?" (Sure, if you don't value your skis!)
  • "Wow, get ready for some harsh winters!" (Sorry, but my winters in NY were a lot colder and gray, unrelenting, and the dirty snow never.leaves.the.ground.)
  • "Really? You can drive three hours in one direction, and not even leave the state?" (Hey, that person was from NJ, cut her some slack!)
  • "Maybe I'll drive out and visit for a weekend." (Drive out, and then turn around and head right on back to make it to work on Monday.)
  • "Have you ever seen a buffalo?" (Yes, my family keeps one in the yard. Oh, I couldn't resist!)
  • "You must eat a lot of steak!" (Er, what?)
Now, some of these questions are perfectly valid, but it got me thinking about the pre-conceptions we all have about places we've never seen. I remember being shocked, the first time I went to a NY deli, that the counter man made conversation with me while he was fixing my sandwich. Aren't New Yorkers supposed to be rude, soulless creatures who shy from human interaction? As I can now attest: hardly.

So as I chuckle at these friends' mental images of the West, I should pause to think about my own misconceptions. I lived in Denver for 18 years and Boulder for 5, but the state has changed a lot in the past 11 years. A lot. I, of course, have changed as well, as I adapted to New York living. My family thinks I'm dressed up all the time, I don't hesitate before asking someone how much they pay in rent, and I will fight you for a cab. Hands off if you don't want to lose that hand!

So I decided to start this blog, as a way of re-exploring my natal state and city. As a librarian interested in local history, archives and genealogy, I also plan on investigating the ephemeral, physical, social and institutional history of the city; architecture; social ways; and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Readers should feel free to ask questions, suggest topics, or challenge me when they think I'm being too much of a greenhorn. And let's hope I can find some strong coffee!


  1. I will visit and bring coffee in exchange for a buffalo.

  2. I hear they eat their young there. Is this true? After they scalp them of course.

  3. Can't wait to read more as you go, Laura! And I'm pretty sure none of those misconceptions can be traced back to me. I hope.

  4. We're getting a pair after she's moved out here, Alicia! :)

  5. LMOB: Deal. What date's good for you?

    Alicia and Dagfinn: Surprisingly, have never owned any, but have had a hankering for them lately...

    ATOM: No, I think you've got that confused with the NYC subway rats! I've seen The Warriors AND The Secret of Nimh...I know how these things work.

    Gina: Thanks! I think you're in the clear.

  6. I will definitely be visiting you in your new 'hood. I'm sure we will be in town at some point to meet Stark's new nephew. And I have never met the mysterious Dagfinn! What's up with that?

    I remember how angry my college roommate was when I referred to Colorado as the Midwest. Now I know better.